...has amassed so much data on so many billions of people and organized it so confusingly that full transparency is impossible on a technical level. In the March 2022 hearing, Zarashaw and Steven Elia, a software engineering manager, described Facebook as a data-processing apparatus so complex that it defies understanding from within. The hearing amounted to two high-ranking engineers at one of the most powerful and resource-flush engineering outfits in history describing their product as an unknowable machine.
The special master at times seemed in disbelief, as when he questioned the engineers over whether any documentation existed for a particular Facebook subsystem. “Someone must have a diagram that says this is where this data is stored,” he said, according to the transcript. Zarashaw responded: “We have a somewhat strange engineering culture compared to most where we don’t generate a lot of artifacts during the engineering process. Effectively the code is its own design document often.” He quickly added, “For what it’s worth, this is terrifying to me when I first joined as well.”
The fundamental problem, according to the engineers in the hearing, is that Facebook’s sprawl has made it impossible to know what it consists of anymore; the company never bothered to cultivate institutional knowledge of how each of these component systems works, what they do, or who’s using them. There is no documentation of what happens to your data once it’s uploaded, because that’s just never been something the company does, the two explained. “It is rare for there to exist artifacts and diagrams on how those systems are then used and what data actually flows through them,”